Judge Somoud al-Damiri: HERA fellow 25th – 30th June 2018 Gottingen

From Monday 25th of June until Saturday 30th of June, Judge Somoud al-Damiri spent one week in Göttingen, invited as a fellow to the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies of Georg-August University by the Göttingen USPPIP team. Judge Damiri -one of the few female shari’a judges, working in the West Bank was invited, with the title of “HERA fellow”, to take part in some of the activities organized by Prof. Schneider and Dr. Edres within the framework of the USPPIP project. The detailed agenda of Judge al-Damiri included the following appointments:

Tuesday 26th June: Lecture “Palestinian Women between Sharia and Law. Shari’a Judge Samoud al-Damiri – Special Case”. The lecture took place at Göttingen University at the Department for Arabic and Islamic Studies, inside the framework of the Seminar on Islamic Law of Prof. Schneider. During the lecture Judge al-Damiri provided the students with information about the Judicial System in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (addressing the overlapping of different legislations and the difficulties related to it and presented her professional experience as Shari’a Judge and Public Prosecutor in Family Law.

Wednesday 27th June: Double Talk “Female Judges – Experiences, Successes and Challenges in Palestine and Germany”. This public lecture combined the talks of two experts on law and gender. Somoud al-Damiri and Professor Maria Wersig, a German Professor of law in social work at the University of Applied Science in Dortmund. Both assessed the role of female judges in their legal orders and the question of anti-discrimination for women.

Thursday 28th – Friday 29th June: Judge Damiri attended the Workshop “Uses of the Past: Islamic International Law and the Problem of Translation. Concepts and Applications”. This workshop, organized at Göttingen University dealt with Islamic legal narratives and practices of International law in the contemporary world and in the context of the complex political structures characterizing the Muslim world. In greater detail, the workshop addressed the question of the definition and the role of Islamic International Law in today’s global world; the working modalities of scholars discussing it and their reference to the past (siyar) in developing it; modalities of navigation of Muslim legal scholars and Muslim modern nation states between International Law and Muslim jurisprudential understandings regarding conflicts over territory, population, community and governance; strategies of “translation” of international conventions into Muslim legal discourses; reference to Islamic early and classical law when dealing with International Islamic law; main Muslim legal concepts re-defined to respond to a dominating, conflicting international order. The workshop project critically engaged and added to the increasing stream of scholarship committed to making visible the voices, interests, defeats and victories of non-Western Muslim international scholars. In this framework Judge al-Damiri participated actively, engaging with international scholars and providing the participants interesting insights into the Palestinian judicial framework.

During the above mentioned week, Judge al-Damiri also engaged directly with the students of Göttingen University, allowing them to sit with her for two interviews useful for the students to fulfill the requirements of a Seminar course on “Female Judges in the Muslim World”, held by Prof.  Schneider. She also had the opportunity to engage with the local and broader public in Göttingen through a radio interview.

“Gender and Sharīʿah in Muslim Legal Theory and Practice” Conference, Göttingen University, 12-14 October 2017

The Conference, organized by Prof. Dr. Irene Schneider and Dr. Nijmi Edres (Seminar für Arabistik, Göttingen University), is the second conference of the Project “Understanding Sharia: Past Perfect/Imperfect Present” (US-PPIP) and took place in collaboration with the other partners of the US-PPIP project: the Universities of Exeter, Leiden and Bergen.

US-PPIP’s research in Göttingen aims at arguing the existing research and examining how courts and legal practitioners, as well as legal theorists, use past notions of gender relations and supposedly “ideal” roles to make judgements, give legal decisions and develop “authentic” Islamic role models.

Being part of this broad project the conference aimed at investigating two main issues: how Muslim judges and scholars use legal tradition to assess modern gender roles and deal with women’s rights? How are gender roles in the Prophet’s time related to the requirements of a society of the 21st century?

During first two days, special reference has been made to Palestinian cases, being the research of Prof. Dr. Irene Schneider and Dr. Nijmi Edres focused on the Muslim Palestinian communities living inside the Israeli borders and the West Bank. On Saturday the perspective got broader, touching different locales, from Jordan to the Indian Ocean.

The Conference was opened on Thursday 12th of October with a public lecture held by Prof. Joseph Massad, invited as keynote speaker. Dr. Joseph Massad, Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies (MESAAS) of Columbia University-New York, addressed the broad topic of “Traditionalizing Modernity”. In his speech Prof. Massad presented the various historical transformations of Shari’a into a modern European-style code as emerged in several locales, from colonial India and Algeria to the Ottoman Empire, acknowledging the entangled connections between the historical transformation of Muslim law and the European colonial project in Asia and Africa. The speech offered a wide framework useful to introduce and contextualize the core issues addressed by the conference and, thanks to highly critical insights, opened up the debate about the notions of “gender” and “egalitarianism” and the possibilities of radical reformulations and juridical change in gender relations in both Europe and the Arab world.

On Friday 13th the first panel focused on the direct experience of two practitioners: qadi Iyad Zahalka (Shari’a Court of Jerusalem, Israeli Shari’a Court of Appeal) and qadi Somoud al-Damiri (Supreme Judge Department, Palestine). In his speech Zahalka addressed the notion of “egalitarianism” presenting his perspective as a Muslim judge working in the Shari’a Courts in Israel. From the other side of the green Line, the paper sent by qadi Somoud al-Damiri (read by Prof. Irene Schneider) provided an overview of the different juridical systems overlapping in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Moreover, it offered an interesting point of view on the work of female judges in the West Bank and their commitments to gender equality, presenting a review of legal texts on personal status issues, judicial implementation and observations for further improvement of women’s rights.

The debate on Palestinian female judges and their position in the West bank has been developed also by legal anthropologist Laila Abed Rabho (Truman Research Institute, Hebrew University of Jerusalem), who further discussed “the appointment of female Qadis (judges) in the Sharia court, Palestine as a case study”. From the same anthropological perspective, the paper of Ido Shahar (Haifa University) dealt with “the socio-legal consequences of the dissolution of mixed marriages” presenting two interesting cases from Israel.

On Friday afternoon, the lawyer perspective was presented by Moussa Abou Ramadan (DRES; Strasbourg University) and Mutaz Qafisheh (Hebron University). In his talk, Mutaz Qafisheh introduced the legislative process that in West Bank and the Gaza Strip lead to reform Palestinian family law in light of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), without reservations. The highly critical paper underlined, despite political will to ensure gender equality and legislative enactment line with international standards, the difficulties towards a real change of practices and the necessity of a comprehensive reform process involving socio-economical, educational and cultural transformations of the Palestinian society. Similar in its provoking slant, the paper of Moussa Abou Ramadan addressed the dual legal system of religious and civil law in Israel underlying distortions in the implementation of rights and duties of husbands and wives, focusing on child support allotted to Muslim children in family courts in Israel. Children rights were at the core of the paper of Nijmi Edres (Göttingen University) as well. Her talk focused on “the conceptualization of the ‘interest of the child’ through the use of the classical concept of ‘haqq Allah’” by Palestinian judges with Israeli citizenship and highlighted the complexities and the implications of such a conceptualization in the Israeli context. The same focus on the use of legal tradition in contemporary times was shared by Irene Schneider (Göttingen University), whose paper addressed “Uses of the Past in the Textbook for the Course of Personal Status Law at Birzeit University/West Bank (Winter Semester 2013/14)”.

On Saturday morning, the conference works were opened by Yitzhak Reiter (Ashkelon Academic College), who compared two case studies of Women Activism at Jerusalem Holy Places, Murabitat al-Aqsa and the Women of the Wall, considering how they creatively represent themselves in relation to their struggles and their different religious values. The attention of the participants turned then to Jordan, thanks to Doerthe Engelcke (Max Plank Institute for Comparative and International Private Law), who addressed “the Legal Practice of the Greek Orthodox Court in Amman: between Legal Borrowing and Clerical Authoritarianism”, giving the participants the possibility to compare the attitudes of Muslim judges in Israel and the West Bank to those of the Orthodox colleagues in the neighboring country. The last three speeches of the conference were addressed by members of the USPPIP project, Omar Anchassi, Robert Gleave and Mahmood Khooria, who focused on the relations between gender and Islamic law considering the use of Muslim legal tradition and the attitudes of Muslim judges towards three different issues. The paper of Omar Anchassi (Exeter University) analyzed “Juristic Attitudes to female Literacy from the Formative to Modern Periods”, exploring the elements used by Muslim jurists to discourage female literacy on various grounds. Differently, the paper of Robert Gleave (Exeter University) explored ritual restrictions on women during menstruation through the examination of a particular set of hadith found in Shi’i collections. Finally, Mahmood Kooria (Leiden University) analyzed jihad discourses of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century against matrilineal customs.

The conference works were closed with a wrap up by Monika Lindbekk (University of Oslo), who underlined the recurrence of four core topics in the talks addressed by the speakers: uses of the past in legal discourse and practice; gender implications of uses of an “Islamic past”; gender and judicial authority (with special reference to the experience of female judges); theory and practice in relation to the wider social formation.